Strength in organized protest

By Wesley Pegden

In the November 15 issue of the Maroon, two articles appeared in Viewpoints, originating from different political positions and addressing separate issues, which nevertheless shared an unfortunate commonality. Both John Lovejoy and Christopher Meeske dodged the task last Friday of backing up what they mistakenly represent as fact, replacing what could be the presentation of worthwhile opinion with baseless indictments and calls to action.

In “Liberals, Use Different Tactics,” Meeske argues that liberals must turn away from the faulty practice of “awareness-raising,” a practice which he claims is one of the “common tools” of liberal movements of the past and that its practice constitutes, in effect “[sitting] idly by while poverty, terrorism, environmental devastation, and a dozen other crises overwhelm our nation and our planet.” This is a strong claim. At first glance, this might lead one to conclude that Meeske sees no value whatsoever in protest and social change through the creation of social awareness. Impressively, a second glance at his article does nothing but reinforce this interpretation. Meeske offers the claim that “The millions of marchers who flocked to the cause of civil rights in the 60’s achieved nothing until Lyndon Johnson pushed the Civil Rights Act through a hostile Congress,” and that “Hundreds of marches against the Vietnam War removed not a single U.S. soldier from combat.” “Richard Nixon accomplished what the concerted efforts of campuses across the country could not.” These are viewpoints which are highly controversial, but which are nevertheless presented as fact. Meeske seems to have confused, or at the very least suppressed, the not-so-subtle causal relationships that can lead to a revolution in the way we think of equality, or to a nation’s decision to end a war.

Does Meeske believe that Martin Luther King, Jr. had no real effect on social change, simply because he was not an elected official? Would this mean that any historian who considers Gandhi an important revolutionary figure is mistaken, as Indian independence was actually “given” by the British politicians? Would Gandhi have been more effectual had he remained in Britain and tried to live the life of a statesman? Indeed, how is it possible that Meeske’s article will have any effect on social change, if it comes in a form other than legislation? While Meeske might have a perspective on each of these issues I am raising, he gives the reader no indication of such perspectives, seriously crippling the validity of his argument.

Lovejoy’s “Liberals Don’t Get Conservatism” is full of sarcastic questions intended as a rebuttal to a response to one of his past articles. Beginning with a response to an attack on his grasp of the Constitution, Lovejoy argues that his conservative take on the Constitution is correct, which he illustrates with the statement that, “If the majority of the people vote to get rid of welfare, they have that right.” While at first a seemingly obvious statement of freedom of choice, Lovejoy’s assertion contains the dangerous implication that every act of the government is a direct manifestation of the will of the people. While many would agree that people should have the right to vote themselves off welfare, few would agree that is how social initiatives are squashed in this country. To counter his rival’s claim that the two major political parties are very similar, John asks, “Then why are there over 100 million registered Democrats and Republicans? Do these people not know better? Are they stupid?” Lovejoy cannot demonstrate that the average American has a range of political choices but chooses to back one of the major political parties, so he implies this instead. Later, in response to the reasonable claim that war in Iraq would be imperialist aggression, Lovejoy replies, “It’s not like Saddam Hussein has used chemical weapons against Israel, Iran, and his own people. Surely he isn’t a murderous dictator whose removal would make life far better for his people.” Lovejoy doesn’t take up any of these issues in his piece. He doesn’t address why the U.S., which has known about Iraq’s worst transgressions since the Reagan administration, only pushes for war when it seems to produce an economically positive result. In fact, Lovejoy doesn’t really address any questions in his entire article.

In his brief section of ideological statement, Lovejoy argues that, “The truth is that every invention, every technological advance in human history, has come about because somebody wanted to make some money off of it.” He does not argue this, but states it as convenient fact, no fact at all. Microsoft acknowledges that its greatest threat is Linux, a free operating system written by a community of online developers and users who do not receive economic compensation for their work. A better response to Lovejoy’s claim, however, would be the realization that the burden of proof falls upon him when he states that inventions and development that take place in a money-driven capitalist society could not take place in any other economic system. Lovejoy doesn’t even contemplate this issue.

Both Meeske and Lovejoy presented articles devoid of substance and full of empty claims. If Lovejoy wants to retaliate against someone who responds to his opinion, he should back up his claims. If Meeske intends to convince everyone with political opinions that the only way to affect social change is to run for public office, he has his work cut out for him. Opinions, when presented with arguments and reasoning, can form the basis for political discussion and social consciousness. Empty claims and biting sarcasm form the basis for political indifference and social stagnancy.